Sunday, February 28, 2010

'Pinto's' Summer Cruise, part 2

Eddystone Lighthouse


Wednesday, 30th July

By 0230 we could no longer see the flash of the Eddystone Light which placed us about 15 miles from it on a bearing of 070 degrees. By 1040 the Lizard Lighthouse could clearly be seen ahead. According to the log, during the past eighteen- and-a-half hours we had only sailed sixteen miles, which gave us an average speed of 1.16 knots. By 1130 we were a couple of miles south of the Lizard. A high pressure area to the north was depriving us of wind. In fact there was a dead calm and a perfect azure sky. Sunhats and light clothing kept us from being burnt by the sun’s rays. Coasters and freighters passed us frequently in the shipping lane a mile or so to the south of us. We decided it was safe for a swim, but this time we examined the tranquil surface of the sea before taking the plunge. We didn’t know for sure if a shark was nearby, although I doubt it would have been interested in us, certainly not as prey. Nevertheless we were vigilant, and had the boarding ladder over the side for a quick exit.

Lizard Lighthouse as viewed from the sea

Lizard Point

A haze began to develop high in the sky, causing a hint of a halo around the sun. In turn a faint wind from the north allowed us to use the spinnaker on a fine reach. Gradually the wind increased in strength from force 2 to force 3 and we began to scoot along. The wind backed to the northwest and freshened to force 4 which had us taking down the spinnaker and replacing it with the Genoa. At 1545 Land’s End bore 320 degrees. The sea was still smooth which allowed ‘Pinto’ to move at her maximum speed of six knots. Within an hour-and-a-half we were excited to see the Wolf Rock lighthouse fine on our port bow about three miles away. Providing the wind remained steady, we had all the power we needed for maintaining our course. Therefore we passed within three cable of the Lighthouse to take in the scale and detail.

Wolf Rock Lighthouse

Peninnis Light

From there on for the next nineteen miles there was nothing, apart from the sea, between us and Peninnis Head which marks the entrance to St Mary’s Sound at the Scilly Isles. We were averaging very nearly six knots, which meant we arrived in the offing shortly before dark. Going in at night was not difficult because there was good visibility, and buoys like Spanish Ledge Buoy were lighted to guide us in. We sailed around the Garrison and anchored off Hugh Town Harbour at 2245. Very pleased with ourselves we made a hot snack and turned in.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

‘Pinto’s’ Summer Cruise, 1975, part 1

Logbook Cover

In the summer of 1975 my friend, Geoff, was looking for a crew to accompany him aboard his 21’ JOG Racer for a cruise to Southern Ireland from the Exe Estuary. The yacht was a functional offshore racing machine which could be described as an ULDV, i.e., ultra-lightweight displacement vessel. ‘Pinto’ was a smaller version of the ‘Top Hat’ designed by Illingworth and Primrose.

Needless to say, I gladly accepted Geoff’s offer.

The following account of our cruise is based on my logbook that I submitted to the Commodore of the Up River Yacht Club as an entry for the Lithgoe Trophy. At the discretion of the Cruising Committee, the Lithgoe Trophy was awarded annually to a member of the Club who presented the most outstanding cruising log. In truth I can’t remember who was awarded the Trophy for 1975, but it is of no importance as I reminisce thirty-five years later.


Monday, 28th July, 1975

At mid-afternoon we cast off our Starcross mooring to take the last of the ebb to the Exe Bell Buoy. There was just enough water over the Bar for ‘Pinto’s’ deep fin keel to be clear of the shale and sand. Our trusty Seagull outboard gave us a good 3 knots. When we arrived at the Bell Buoy we set the trailing log to zero and headed southwest for Hope’s Nose which marked the north-eastern end of Torbay. A few hours later we crossed Torbay, and at 2340 Start Point bore 270 degrees while Berry Head bore 310 degrees. There was a gentle offshore breeze and a brilliant moon.

First Leg

Tuesday, 29th July

Tuesday morning saw us having breakfast as we struggled to make way while south of the entrance to Salcombe. The flood tide hampered our progress, so we reluctantly started the engine. With the engine pushing us along we could maintain a steady speed of 2 knots which was perfect for catching mackerel, and within minutes a slippery fish was flipping about in the cockpit making an awful mess before we could put the creature out of its misery by giving it sharp blows to the head with a large screwdriver.

Shortly before lunch the wind veered, so as to come from the east, which was ideal for the spinnaker. We were in the west-going shipping lane; therefore we kept a wary eye open for overtaking vessels. Geoff took the opportunity of the perfect conditions for mending a split in a seam of the Genoa. At 1535 the Eddystone Lighthouse lay about a mile away on a bearing of 330 degrees. ‘Pinto’ was becalmed and the sun was hot, so we took turns at swimming in the cool water. When Geoff climbed aboard after his final swim, a large shark appeared only yards from the boat. I guess it was a harmless basking shark, but his size was off-putting.

View of Torbay

Early that evening the wind sprang up, so that we were able to sail towards Lizard Point. We ran a 3 hour alternating watch system from 1800 to 0600 the following morning, so that each of us did two watches. Whoever worked the first watch between 1800 and 2100 was to swap it for the second watch the following day. We shared watch keeping during daylight, usually helming for two hours at a time, depending on conditions and how we felt. The person off watch prepared, cooked and cleaned away the evening meal. There was very little shipping that night and the stars were gorgeous.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Congratulations Charlie Pitcher, Atlantic Rower

I have posted two previous Blog entries about Charlie Pitcher, the Atlantic Rower I met at Burnham Marina at the end of one of his training sessions. In my last Blog entry about Charlie my concluding words were:

“Unless anything goes wrong, Charlie has a very good chance of being the winner. As I type, he is in front of the fleet with a 50 mile lead on his nearest competitor. He is very fit and in fighting form. He may even break the existing record time for a solo rower."

Well, Charlie was first, and he broke the record! Not only was he the first solo rower to cross the finish line at Antigua, but he was well ahead of all the other boats, including doubles. He took 52 days 6 hours and 47 minutes to row a distance of 2,551 miles.

One of the reasons for Charlie’s participation in the Woodvale Challenge Atlantic Rowing Race was to raise money for the Renal Department of Adenbrookes Hospital. Staff and Patrons of the Hospital can be exceptionally proud of Charlie and grateful for the donations given by those who support the Hospital and Charlie in his efforts at raising the money.

Well done, Charlie!


My previous Blog entries about Charlie

Other Links

Charlie’s web site

Charlie’s Blog

Charlie’s Donation web site

Addenbrookes Hospital and Charlie

Atlantic Rowing Race

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Small Fry, part 4

Troubled Waters

Sunday, 14th July, brought poor visibility and a perverse northwesterly wind. We were trapped under a veil of cloud, through which could be glimpsed a dappled moon. An age passed before we saw Bull Light. Why didn't it move? Dawn revealed Great Skellig, an enormous conical chunk of rock, awesome and forbidding. Visibility worsened as the wind backed to the west, gradually increasing to Force 8. We were in trouble.

Great Skellig on a fine day

A few miles to starboard there were the Skellig Islands and a fearsome lee shore from which there seemed no escape. With just a tiny corner of the mainsail and the storm jib set, ‘Nellie’ our self-steering gear worked hard at coaxing 'Shyauk' over fierce breaking seas. The scene was one of utter bedlam while the wild wind shrieked, howled and whistled. Steep breaking seas became more menacing, forcing us to lay ahull. Then there was nothing for it but to pray. I was cold and wet, suffering from hypothermia, but fear was the main reason why my body shook. A poor R.D.F. bearing of Eagle Island placed us in a vulnerable position with Great Skellig less than two miles away.

'Shyauk' motoring

Our last resort was the engine, which fired into life at the second pull. Bang, crash! Bang, crash! Slowly 'Shyauk’ climbed each swell and smashed through breaking crests, then accelerated as she slithered down the windward side of every advancing wave. Hail, rain, salt and spray made seeing difficult. ‘Thump’ spluttered on for three quarters of an hour, then gave up. Once again we lay ahull. Like express trains, huge breakers thundered down gigantic swells before crashing against ‘Shyauk’s’ windward side. As she heeled and gave to each of them she left a slick to windward that helped flatten the advancing waves. This was her secret of survival.

'Shyauk' ahull

Tidal currents swished us to and fro, and poor visibility made navigation virtually impossible. Every hour the barometric pressure fell one millibar. The wind veered and blew harder than ever. How were the other small fry coping? ‘Bluff’, ‘Windsor Life' and 'Black Velvet'? Perhaps they too were in difficulties?

Early on Tuesday morning 16th July, visibility improved, and the wind abated. It wasn't until early Wednesday morning that we saw Gull Rock Light. But by then, our morale was rock bottom; our spirit had been broken. Wind and sea had overcome us. We knew we could no longer complete the Race within the time limit. An inspection of the boat revealed a loose connection between the tiller and the rudder post because of the exceptional forces that had been imposed upon the badly designed fitting during the gale.

The Skipper shattered after the onslaught

Despondent, but knowing it was the right decision, we retired from the Race and ran for the Scilly Islands, where we informed Race Officials of our reluctant retirement.

Running to the Scillies after retirement


Altogether out of 60 starters there were 18 retirements, and out of the three 24 LOA yachts, only ‘Windsor Life’ completed the Race by virtue of a time extension. She raced for a total of 38 days, 13 hours and 30 minutes. John Westell and Bill Cherry were rescued when their trimaran broke up.

W. Serjeant,

Starcross, July, 1974.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Small Fry, part 3

'Shyauk' beating towards Mizzen Head

Soon after dawn, the friendly Irish brought us papers and milk; then they towed ‘Shyauk’ to a mooring alongside the Royal Cork Yacht Club. Thus began two days of sunny bliss. This compulsory stop enabled us to shop without haste, have showers at the Club, chat with competitors, and enjoy several walks into the local countryside.

For me, setting sail on a Friday was ominous. I was pleased the date was the 12th and not the 13th. I wasn’t a Christian at the time, but my brother, being a priest, was not at all superstitious. He dismissed the belief held by quite a few sailors that putting out to sea on a Friday brings bad luck. Setting sail on Friday, 13th would be worse, because the number 13 is thought by many to be unlucky. Starting at 0208 hours didn't make me feel any better. In fact, we were ten minutes late reaching the departure point at Roche Light.

When we were clear of the harbour we found that the wind was a westerly Force 2. Our immediate goal was to sail south of the Fastnet Rock, which was a requirement of the Race Rules. I'd heard much about this infamous rock, and I was looking forward to seeing it. With the wind from the west we took an age to get there. As we closed the Rock on Saturday morning the wind veered to the northwest and it freshened to Force 4. That was exactly what we didn’t want, because that meant beating into the wind. Mizzen Head and the other headlands jutting out to the southwest would be that much more difficult to overcome.

The Battleground

Mizzen Head and Sheep’s Head were supremely beautiful. Beyond them we could see mountain tops in the far distance, shrouded in mist. Nature's muted hues of blue, brown, grey, green and purple blended into the finest harmony. Craggy cliffs rose from the sea. They were fierce and wild with foaming breakers at their base. The scene was of magnificent grandeur, as 'Shyauk' was held captive by wind and tide. Saturday darkened and the drama intensified. First there was The Battle of Mizzen Head which was followed with The Battle of Sheep’s Head. These headlands were like powerful, valiant knights wielding swords of conflict. We had cut it too fine; we should have avoided warring by going well offshore.

The southwest coast of Southern Ireland is a frightening place in a rising wind. To the west there are three-thousand miles of ocean where the wind can roar and build a swell. The power of the waves when they blast the cliffs is unbelievable, and as the sea is funneled into a bay like Bantry Bay the waves become murderous curlers with fang-like teeth. This battleground presented a real challenge for 'Shyauk' and her crew.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Small Fry, part 2


Manureva again

Sunday morning brought little wind and a thick, pea soup fog. The sound of ships’ horns came from all quarters, and with the life raft at the ready, we had a few anxious moments. The siren of Lizard Lighthouse grew closer, sounding one long blast and one short. Faint images emerged from the gloom. There was tiny ‘Bluff’ drifting in circles, and beyond her lay the Lizard’s rocky spine. For the next two hours a gentle wind blew from the southeast, and our large yellow spinnaker drew us along nicely. We silently skipped over rippling water towards that sentinel of the Western Approaches, the Bishop Rock Lighthouse; tall, austere and granite grey. After bypassing a vicious tiderip to the south, and with the 'Last Light of England' dipping the horizon, the ocean was ours. We shaped a course for Cork Harbour.

The wind freshened from the southwest, but at dawn it veered, causing ‘Shyauk’ to be close-hauled. ‘Nellie’, our Hasler self-steering gear, took command. We huddled below and warmed our hands over the oil lantern, which we kept burning in a galvanized bucket. Our valiant vessel thrashed to windward. Overhead, the sky was leaden grey, and all around, the green sea was flecked with white spray. So as not to lose ground, we worked a course too far to the west where we sighted the unmistakable lattice structure of the drilling ship, ‘Saipen’. Fatigued, and our senses dulled, we belatedly altered course for the Daunt Lightship.

At dusk, the Head of Kinsale’s welcoing Light blinked a message, ''Here I am. Here I am. Keep Clear. Keep Clear.”

The starboard light’s glow transformed our spinnaker into a shimmering ghost that magically whisked us through the void of the night. Foaming, phosphorescent waves dissipated into the gloom, while a luminous wake trailed astern. Cobh Harbour’s myriad confusing lights dazed our senses.

“Red sector, white sector, 2 ½ seconds ………. or was it 3?”

“Where’s the finish line?”

“Over there by that light.”

At last established, we made all speed. I, with torch and timer at the bow, shouted, "Allow for the set,” and “Watch that rock!"

My, brother worked the tiller and played the mainsheet. At 0208 hours, we crossed the transit marking the end of the first leg, having taken 3 days, 14 hours and 38 minutes. (Unknown to us, the 24 foot ‘Bluff’ arrived exactly 5 hours before us.)

Tired, we searched for an anchorage. The wind freshened and it began to drizzle. ‘Thump’, our engine, was on strike and refused to start. There followed a nightmare experience. A sluicing ebb tide against a sharp swell from the south combined to make things difficult.

I pleaded with my brother, "Can you get those lights in transit?” then I bellowed, “Watch out, we're nearly aground!"

With the driving rain it was impossible to judge distances accurately.

“We can't anchor here. It's too exposed."

We haphazardly made our way against wind and tide into the river at Crosshaven.

Shapes loomed ahead!

“Yes. That’s 'Manureva' and there is ‘Mantis 1V. Let's drop the hook here.”

The anchor failed to hold us; therefore we hurriedly threw the heavy Danforth over the side. This was attached to six fathoms of five-sixteenths chain and thirty fathoms of Nelson warp. The extra anchor did the trick. At last we had found peace. Exhausted but contented, we fell into a deep, deep sleep.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Small Fry, part 1

This is an account of an attempt to sail around Britain in the twenty-four foot yacht ‘Shyauk’ during the 1974, Royal Western Observer Race.

'Shyauk' at the start of the Race

A week after retiring from the Round Britain Sailing Race, I was comfortably relaxed in the snug cabin of 'Shyauk'. I was reminiscing on the events of the previous few days. All was silent, apart from the gurgling of water around the yacht’s bow as the flood tide was intent upon covering numerous sandbanks of the Exe Estuary.

July had been a bad month with gale after gale from the west, veering northwest. Big fish like Knox Johnston in the seventy-foot catamaran ‘British Oxygen’, and Leslie Williams in the eighty-foot ‘Burton Cutter’ had reveled in the strong winds, strong enough to sever a float from the trimaran 'John Willie' as she battled with a gale south of the Shetlands. By comparison with Johnston’s enormous catamaran, 'Shyauk' at twenty-four feet was merely a sprat. Furthermore, I had added a three inch false stem in order to qualify as an entry for the Race. Built in 1956, she had been designed for the sedate waters of Swanage Bay, not for the rigours of racing around Britain, but she was the best I could afford, and with luck, she would complete the Race.

The start off Plymouth Hoe was a colourful spectacle with about sixty yachts responding to the gun. To our port there was the bright yellow trimaran ‘Three Cheers’, owned by Mike McMullen, and beyond her was Alain Colas’s dark blue 'Manureva', while astern of our canary coloured ‘Shyauk’ there was the tiny pale blue ‘Bluff’, sailed by R.M. White and D. Hogarth. Managed by Clare Francis and Eva Bonham, the thirty-two foot‘Cherry Blossom’ soon overhauled us. In hot pursuit was the whale-shaped junk-rigged schooner 'Galway Blazer of Dart’, with Peter Crowther at her helm.

The wind that morning at Plymouth Sound was a light westerly that had us playing our sails while we tiptoed lightly so as not to disturb the flow of water around the yacht’s hull. We held our own with ‘Sherpa’, the twenty-six foot Fairey Atalanta owned by Alan Perkes and the Hurley 24/70, ‘Windsor Life', sailed by Sergeant Gerry Norman and John Reynolds. ‘Eclipse of Mylor', the twenty-eight foot Venus gaff ketch owned by R.A.H. Spedding lay astern. It was smugly gratifying to know we weren't last. Before long, the Eddystone Rock, which was our first mark had been left astern, and only a few distant sails remained ahead, reminding us of our purpose. The Race had well and truly begun.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Memborable Cruise, part 12

The Marina


Gordon and I had no desire to face another night of head-banging disco. We therefore unanimously agreed to head for Torrevieja, where it was hoped ‘Secant’ would be berthed until September, when the summer heat and tourist season would be finished. We motor-sailed there and found a berth at the Yacht Club. Near the end of our jetty there was a gigantic German superyacht, which was the ugliest yacht I had ever seen. Perhaps she wouldn't have been so ugly, had her deckhouse been smaller. I felt sorry for her permanent crew who had to work hard at maintaining the monstrosity. One crewmember spent about an-hour-and-a-quarter supported in the water by a harness as he cleaned the waterline along the port side!


The next day, Thursday, 25th June, was my last chance to look around neibourhood. I took a ferry to the island of Tabarca, which we had sailed by while on our way to Torrevieja. An acquaintance of Gordon’s described the Island as, “A building site in the middle of the sea.” I also had a similar impression when I first arrived at the Island’s jetty, but in the course of my exploration, I didn't find any new buildings except in the town.

Tabarca Aerial View

At mid-day the sun broke through the overcast sky, and it became very hot. Seeking shade, I went to one of the numerous cafes where I ate a half-cooked hamburger and drank a Coke. Afterwards, I braved the heat and walked the perimeter of the island. I came across an unused dilapidated church constructed of local red sandstone. It had been fenced off to prevent people from entering, presumably as a safety precaution because of the unstable state of the building. Further along the path I discovered an old well which was covered with ornate tiles. This was a brilliant example of a functional object that had been tastefully decorated in the manner of Spanish folk-art. I was attracted to a group of delightful tiny terraced houses that had not been painted in years, but they were still being used for habitation.

As with other islands, Tabarca had a waste disposal problem. The solution was to dump it away from the town. Piles of unsightly rubbish did nothing to enhance the open spaces of the Island. Most of the beaches away from the town were covered with what looked like layers of bracken. As such, they were not attractive. At the far end of the island, there was a walled-in cemetery, the likes of which I had not seen before. On looking through a small wrought iron gate, I saw stone tombs, some with windows for displaying figurines, photographs and printed texts.

Tabarca Main Beach

Another View

As I continued further, I discovered a beach where I could have a swim, but I did not have my costume. That didn’t matter, because there was no one about, but when I reached the water's edge and undid my belt to remove my trousers, I realized my mini-binoculars had fallen out of their pouch. I would need to retrace my steps, but that was easier said than done, because there were various trails beside the cliffs, and I couldn't be sure which ones I had taken. I returned to the cemetery, as that had been the last place where I had used the binoculars. I had focused the lenses on a two-man catamaran that was going surprisingly fast, especially as there was so little wind. Although I diligently searched the area, I failed to find my much-valued binoculars. This was a great loss. Not only had they cost £50, but they had been a present from my wife. I tried to rationalize the situation by accepting that my loss may be another’s gain – that’s if the binoculars had been found by someone who chanced upon them. Perhaps that person would gain as much pleasure as I had from them? After all, we are only stewards or custodians of what God gives us. He gives and He takes away.

Aboard the ferry, on my way back from Tarbaca, I had a conversation with two attractive ladies. They were Swedish, both having a good command of English. I was surprised that they lived with boyfriends, but more so that each of them had three children. They looked far too young for that. One said she was searching for another man with whom she could start a new life, but she had no intention of telling her current partner until she found the right guy. She just wanted a change; meanwhile she had no qualms about deliberately deceiving the fellow she was living with. The other woman was not ashamed that she had been sponging off the State, and she told me she wasn't in a hurry to find employment. When I reasoned with her, she grudgingly accepted that paying for her own keep may not be a bad idea. Her mother had a villa, a few kilometers up the coast, and she wasn't too short of money. Perhaps that was why this young lady was not unduly worried about getting a job? After all, her mother could help out! Did she have any conscience or understanding of her moral responsibility? I think not.

That night, Gordon and I dined out. We ate at restaurant that was featured in his Michelin Guide which happened to adjoin the Yacht Club. From our vantage point on the veranda, we had a full view of the harbour. We took our time to savour the various delicacies. I had a swordfish steak that had been marinated in wine, served with parsley sauce. It was absolutely delicious. Surprise! Surprise! Most diners there were British. The meal was a fitting way to end our cruise, but all wasn't over.

Friday, 26th June finally arrived, which was the day of my return flight to Heathrow.

One of my schoolteachers taught me that it was good to make sure that when you borrow something, you should return it in the same condition, or if possible, in a better state than when you received it. As I had borrowed ‘Secant 's’ aft cabin, complete with its double berth for thirty-eight days and nights, I wanted to leave it clean and tidy. Therefore I spent time removing numerous bloody stains on the walls of the cabin, where the not-so-clever mosquitoes had met their timely deaths, by courtesy of my Pilgrim's Progress paperback! Also it seemed right that I should launder the sleeping bag that had been loaned to me, but for some reason the washing machine in the Yacht Club’s launderette stopped, and I unthinkingly opened the door for a brief moment which allowed water to spill onto the floor. A lady assistant kindly mopped up the spillage and efficiently restarted the machine. Later, when I went to retrieve the sleeping bag from the drier there was the most enormous cockroach between me and the machine. This creature faced me head-on, raised his feelers, stared; then charged! Not wanting to be judge, jury and executioner, I had compassion and fled the scene. Later, when I returned to the drier to retrieve Gordon’s sleeping bag, the creature was no longer there.

My Departure for Home

Mid-day was the designated time for me to abandon ship, and with the help of the skipper who carried my bag, I walked to the Yacht Club, where the receptionist tried ordering a taxi, but the phone was permanently engaged. Therefore Gordon and I walked about a quarter of a mile to the nearest taxi rank where a cab drew up. Gordon said it had been a memorable cruise. After saying goodbye, I was driven at high speed to Alicante Airport.

My flight to Heathrow was aboard an Iberian Airways plane. I had plenty of leg room, enjoyed good food and found the service excellent all-round. As the aircraft soared to 15,000 feet I reminisced on my Mediterranean adventure; then my thoughts turned to home which was a different world.

Gordon's parting words were true. It had been, in MEMORABLE cruise.

Bill Serjeant.
July, 1998.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Memorable Cruise, part 11


The Harbour and Marina

The Esplanade

Our arrival at Alicante couldn't have been timed better - or was it worse? We tied up at the large, under-utilized marina on the first day of the June Fiesta. Fireworks, marching bands, discos and ‘Barraques' were the greeting we received. The latter are public squares where during the Fiesta, huge papier-mâché edifices are erected. They tell of the history of the city. At the end of the festival, which continues for three days, these edifices are burnt to the ground. Each night of the festival is sheer hell, because there are discos everywhere, and they continue making their awful noise until daybreak. Being on the yacht that night surrounded by several of those ear-shattering sonic boom disco bands, plus gangs of inebriated youngsters, shrieking and crying, was unbearable, but there was no escape. I couldn’t get a wink of sleep.

The ablution facilities at the Marina were a disgrace. The only available toilet did not have a lock, nor did it have any toilet paper. Furthermore, the floor was covered with stinking faeces. The shower was blocked, so that used water flooded the floor and flowed beyond to the pathway outside. One visiting yachtsman declared that if the management couldn't get its act together by organizing service staff, then they deserved to have the waters of their marina polluted with effluent. Indeed, I saw the evidence of this sentiment put into practice, because there it was floating on the water by ‘Secant’.

I was not impressed with Alicante, apart from the Marina's restaurant. Gordon invited his friends, Douglas and Ena to dine with us there. The service, presentation and quality of the food were excellent. Our visitors were very good at telling stories, particularly anecdotes featuring themselves, but not without artistic licence. There was a moment of rare silence when Douglas ceased reminiscing, as he was distracted by an attractive young waitress who passed our table. Gordon remarked how lovely the pearl was in her bellybutton. She was soon forgotten as the stories continued, until it was time to leave, when the same girl presented Gordon with the bill!

Santa Barbara Castle in the background

The next morning it was sweltering hot, but this did not stop me from walking to the summit of a rocky mount to visit Santa Barbara Castle. There I had a grand view of the whole city and I could hear marching bands celebrating the Fiesta. Now and again there were loud explosions as fireworks were being ignited. On my way to the Castle I passed individuals exercising in the open air, invariably by themselves. I stopped to examine what at first I thought was a graveyard, but a closer inspection confirmed that the area had been confiscated by a number of people for the planting of flowers and shrubs. The piece of rough land had been transformed into a community rock garden where hand-written notes were attached to floral tributes. The donors had contributed poems and the details of people to whom the plants had been dedicated. The thought occurred to me that water had to be taken to the garden to keep the plants alive, a true act of devotion because of the effort involved in making the climb.

At the highest part of the castle there were enormous dish aerials for transmitting and receiving radio signals. I knew it was not a good place to hang around for any length of time, because of radioactivity being generated by the transmitters. I was concerned for a policeman who was doing guard duty in front of one of them, but my inability to speak Spanish prevented me from explaining my concern. Exposure for a short time at that close proximity was undoubtedly harmful to him.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Memorable Cruise, part 10

Costa Blanca

Shortly before 0700 hours on Friday, 19th June, the yacht's engine was turned on, and it remained in use until late that evening when we arrived at Morayra Harbour on the Costa Blanca. We had travelled 70 miles under a baking-hot sun, over a rather featureless sea, and by way of interest we only saw a large motor yacht and a few fishing vessels. Disappointingly there were many plastic shopping bags floating at frequent intervals, as if some perpetrator had purposely left them as markers for us to follow.

Aerial View


Pollution of the Mediterranean should be of great concern to all, because in the long run, unless it can be eliminated, it will destroy nature's beauty, the essence of what makes the Mediterranean attractive to visitors. Pollution of the water is one thing, but along the mainland coast of Spain developers have committed murder by destroying what was once a beautiful coastline. That malignant festering sore of ribbon development pours more and more puss into the sea. When will commonsense bring a halt to wholesale destruction of nature’s resources? Incidentally, we didn’t help by laying a trail of carcinogens by burning diesel in the ship’s engine.


On Saturday, 20th June, we left Morayra. There was enough wind for us to sail to Altea, but when we arrived there and we saw the limitations of our proposed anchorage, we continued to Villajoyosa. To do this we had to pass the ‘lager lout’ town of Benidorm, and what a visual catastrophe that place is! The town planners could not have had an overall concept, with the result that the resort is a miscellany of unrelated steel and concrete structures. Each architect has done his own thing without considering neighbouring buildings.


Villajoyosa is smaller than Benidorm, but it has a similar discordant, chaotic appearance. According to Gordon’s friend Douglas, we were expecting, “a pretty little place”; therefore our first impression was one of disappointment. The next day we separately stumbled upon the ‘old town’, with its ancient church and narrow streets, comprising an area that perhaps could be described as “pretty”. At the far end of town there was what could have been an attractive valley leading to the sea, but instead, there was a trickle of a river, strewn with rubbish. For very little effort and expense it could have been transformed into a an attractive nature reserve.

Villajoyosa Waterfront

The resort brought both blessing and sadness for me: Sadness, because I was propositioned by a young man, which I found highly disturbing. I was sorrowful because of his predicament, and I was concerned for his well-being, but I was blessed by God's providence the following day, which was a Sunday, when I inadvertently stumbled upon an Evangelical Church. As I was exploring the main street I saw a sign with the words, ‘Iglesia Evangelica'. The morning service was about to start. Spain being a Catholic country meant that the chances of finding such a church were few and far between. My brothers and sisters in Christ made me very welcome, and I had a most precious experience celebrating the ‘breaking of bread' with them. Before leaving the meeting they presented me with a Spanish/English New Testament and a number of evangelical tracts for me to distribute on my way back to the Marina. I recollect the look of astonishment when I handed a policeman one of the tracts. “For me?” he enquired in Spanish, “Yes, for you!" in English I replied.

If someone mentions the names of places I have visited, I usually recall images, scenes, sounds, or smells associated with them. I shall always associate Villajoyosa with swallows, because for some unaccountable reason when I was there, millions of them congregated at the old town. As they flew around the ancient buildings they made high-pitch shrieks of delight. Their speedy manoeuvres required great skill. Few birds could match their ability as they moved through the air, whirling, wheeling, diving, while flying wingtip to wingtip with their mates. What joy!

Colourful Houses at Villajoyosa

By contrast, I have a less joyful memory of Villajoyosa. It was of a putrid, stinking trickle of a dried-up river, seeping its way to the sea, after passing through a narrow valley of debris and rubbish. There, amongst the plastic cans, bits of old bicycles, a rusty iron bed and putrid weeds, was a large brown toad croaking loudly. He puffed himself up to attract his mate, oblivious of a baby rat wading in the sludge nearby, looking for choice morsels. I had no desire to have a part with these creatures as I had with the swallows.

On glancing behind, I was startled to see a strange-looking man only yards from me. He was gaunt and tanned as old leather. He was unshaven, dishevelled, wearing dirty trousers and a stained shirt. In his hand he carried a plastic bag. Eye to eye contact brought a shiver down my spine. What was his intent? Good or evil? My intuition told me there was something sinister about him. It was time to be off, but not without a silent prayer for his well-being. God had made us both in His image. I was no better than him.

Villajoyosa is known for its production of chocolate. There were indeed several shops selling delicious chocolates, but on my travels along the coast I had not seen any dairy farms for the production of milk which posed the question, “Where did the makers of the chocolate obtain their milk?” A few years ago I almost become a ‘chocoholic', Mars Bars and Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate being my favourites. Fortunately, I overcame my addiction and today I can eat chocolate without craving more.

Villajoyosa is also famous for traditional wooden boat building. I enjoyed looking at a newly-built fishing boat at a yard close to the Marina. Her sweet lines with curvaceous sheer, voluminous bilge, upright stem, and jaunty stern, combined with a straight keel to delight the eye. There was joy and satisfaction for the shipwright in knowing that his skills were required in this age of mass-production. The saw, the adze, the caulking iron and the mallet, are the tools of his trade. Skill of eye and hand, combined with craftsmen's knowledge brought about a unique vessel for the harvesting of tuna.

Before leaving Villajoyosa I desperately needed a haircut. I was beginning to feel and look a little wild, but I did not want to tie my hair in a ponytail. I was getting desperate after finding six hairdressing salons, all of them closed. Finally, I found a ladies' salon that was open! My desperate need required a desperate action; therefore I boldly explained to the proprietor by using sign language that I needed my hair cut. She agreed to do it for 1200 pesetas; that’s about £ 5. Her assistant did a very good job.

Local Fishing Boat

In my absence, Gordon had been working in ‘Secant’s’ spacious engine room, replacing a generator belt. When the belt had been fitted it was time for us to leave and sail for Alicante. Before saying farewell, I photographed a tiny lateen-rigged vessel on display at the Marina. She had once been used by local fishermen. After taking the photo I examined details of her rigging, but as I did so, I was reprimanded in Spanish by the Marina’s manager who was displeased with me for walking on the lawn where the boat was displayed. You can imagine my surprise when only moments later, I saw him and his assistant where I had been.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Memorable Cruise, part 9

Isla Formentera

On Thursday, 18th June, we set off for Cala Sahona on the Isla Formentera. It was a superbly beautiful sunny morning. The cala did not disappoint us. It had the most wonderful, aquamarine water for swimming which was rather cool, but superlatively refreshing. I enjoyed my time in the water there more than at any other place during the cruise. Because the water was calm with no swell, I plucked up courage and climbed the mast for aerial photography.

Bird's Eye View

Cala Sahona is known as a resort for naturists, i.e., those who enjoy being completely naked with others equally enthusiastic on doing the same. As I went for my customary walk I had to cross the naturist beach and I could not but notice a few nude people among the majority who preferred wearing costumes or sun suits. In my youth when I trained as an artist, I regularly drew and painted from the nude; therefore I was not unprepared for what I saw, but some of those examples of humanity at Cala Sahona were not as well-proportioned as the Art School models. I thought it would have been far kinder to others on the beach if they had sunned themselves in private, because they were grossly ugly. I know that it is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but of those I saw by chance in the course of my walk, as far as my eye could judge, none of them could be described as beautiful.

Sahona Anchorage

Different countries have different values and traditions, but I was appalled when I saw goats tethered by ropes around their necks attached to stakes, and with chains linking their hind legs to restrict their movements. Presumably, this was to prevent them straying, and from eating vegetation beyond the scope allowed by the ropes. How they found water I do not know, because none was provided. Perhaps they were given drink by the farmer now and again? Water may have been a key issue on the Island, because there were several rain traps that drained into underground reservoirs. I noted the vegetation was exceedingly dry.

Tourist's Eye View

Cala Sahona is a veritable feast for the eyes, and I recollect trying to explain to Gordon that I am essentially a person who is tuned into visual things. Over the course of my life I have worked hard at improving my verbal skills, but they fall short of what I believe they should be, especially when I compare them to the skills of my peers. The fact that I was fortunate to attend a grammar school may have helped. On the other hand, because of my difficulty with words, one might say dyslexia; I may have been better placed at a secondary modern school. Who knows? The point of my theme is that I was entranced with many of the things I saw at Cala Sahona. I spent ages assiduously observing the wonderful myriad shapes, textures, patterns, reflections and refraction of light. I was enthralled with the underwater images. They were astonishingly captivating, pulsating patterns of reflected and refracted light. I observed the sandy seabed, which appeared to forever move like dancing, writhing snakes. The vision penetrated my inner being as if it and I were one. I was so entranced and joined to this display of nature that I felt the Creator and I were having a joyful dance together. The scene was one of scintillating sparkling light in colours and hues beyond imagining. How I praised God for my very being and His wonderful love.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Memorable Cruise, part 8


To Ibiza

There was hardly any wind. Therefore it was the engine's turn again. Guess what? What little wind there was came from ahead! We were soon to discover a marked contrast between conditions at San Telmo and those as sea. When at anchor we had experienced peace, calm and light, but at sea, there was noise from the engine, the most awful rolling, and darkness after sundown. No longer was there warmth and colour; instead it was a cold, utterly black night with not a star to be seen. The situation was uncomfortable - in fact diabolical. All we could do was to hold on, to avoid being flung about the cockpit. Ahead, there was absolutely nothing, while astern there was the almost imperceptible glimmer of the fading lights of Mallorca. The Autohelm was steering, and in Gordon's own words, we were suffering the most memorable boredom we would want to forget! He even stated the unforgivable sin of the sailor, i.e., he would give up sailing!

I didn't want him to be unhappy, and I felt partly responsible for his boredom, as I knew he was a man who loved stimuli and I wasn’t providing any. I could not fill the gap by engaging him in meaningful conversation. Instead, I found my memory failing as I struggled to remember the names of novelists, poets, artists and their works. Even when it came to the Fine Arts: painting, drawing and sculpture, my specialist subjects, I found myself lacking. Who were my favourite artists, poets and composers? That night, my mind was pulp.

I so much wanted to please. I wanted to share. I wasn’t seeking happiness. I was looking for meaning and purpose. I wanted to be of worth, not merely a useful crewmate. The moment was important. How could our minds meet? Yes, I had Jesus, which makes all things worthwhile, but just then, sailing a boat from ‘A’ to ‘B’ lacked any real purpose, other than misplaced hedonism, which was giving no pleasure to either of us. But, there was the Bible. We did have something in common, for Gordon was able to quote chunks of it, and even I could remember verses I had committed to memory. Our quotes of biblical texts that night brought us the closest we came to a meeting of minds and hearts. I found it strange that I could remember verses, yet all other things were mush.

I shall never forget that diabolical night when Gordon said he believed ‘the prince of the power of the air’* was at work, but as far as I was concerned, the prince with a small ‘p’, made no inroads on Gordon and me.

* Ephesians 2:2

Cala Portinatx

At Ibiza

At 0725 on Tuesday, 16th June, we anchored at Cala Portinatx where there were eighteen other yachts. I was awestruck by the wide variety of rocks that had undoubtedly been formed by volcanic action. That afternoon I rowed ashore and examined them more closely. They had been shaped, not only by geological forces, but by erosion brought about by the wind and sea. Parts of the Island were like a fantasy filmset portraying a strange and distant planet. The sculptures of Henry Moore were impotent and feeble by comparison. I regretted not taking my camera for making a lasting record of those wonderful and weird formations.

As the evening sun kissed the horizon and the sky looked like pink roses, Gordon and I sat at a restaurant table overlooking the cala. He suggested the scene lent itself to being rendered in watercolour - because of the atmospheric fading of hues and tones. I turned my head to see the sunset, and by doing so I cricked my neck. (The pain stayed with me for several days.) My choice from the menu was a mixed grill, but the amount served was so vast, there was no way I could consume the lot! Gordon found the solution by feeding gulls that had stationed themselves on the rocks below, each having his own territory. An emaciated cat also became a beneficiary, but not content with morsels from above, he stalked his feathery competitors to supplement his diet. Time was of no importance as we indulged ourselves eating and sipping mellow wine. Tasty Knickerbocker Glories and flavour-rich coffee completed our repast. We relaxed among other diners, chatting and musing, being a part to the whole, while observing comings and goings.

Our return to ‘Secant’ was not without hilarity, because as Gordon tried stepping into the dinghy he fell headlong into it. He regained his footing, and on his second attempt, successfully entered the dinghy. Could the wine have flowed a little too freely? He rowed vigorously, and I sat too far forward, causing water to come over the bow, which soaked the seat of my pants! Fortunately we found our yacht and managed to board her without further incident.

The next day we moved to Cala Moli on the west side of Ibiza. There, the water was wonderfully clean, which was an invitation for us both to swim.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Memorable Cruise, part 7

'Secant's' Track


I liked this comparatively unspoiled resort. At night it looked particularly attractive with decorative lights and illuminated signs, but I could get little sleep, because I was conscious of the constant high-pitched whine of mopeds. I could hear shouting, laughter and the shrieks of those who had consumed rather more wine or beer than was sensible. Other reasons for my lack of sleep were the continuous rolling of ‘Secant’, and a particularly annoying mosquito, which kept trying to land on my face for a fill of blood. I armed myself with a paperback edition of Pilgrim's Progress for the purpose of dishing-out judicial punishment by swatting! I covered the exposed parts of my anatomy with insect repellent, but it made no difference. Daylight confirmed the success of her persistent attacks. I say ‘her’, because it is the female mosquito that requires blood before laying her eggs. Between my fingers and on the backs of my hands there were numerous mounds; likewise, my forehead was peppered with purple spots, but I took satisfaction, in that my Pilgrim's Progress had previously been used to good effect, and to prove it, the glossy surface was covered, both front and rear with scarlet stains.

Soller Beach

More of Soller

That Sunday morning of 14th June, church bells clanged haphazardly. Their discordant clatter, characteristic of Spanish and Italian bell-ringing, was markedly different to the ordered rounds of English bells. Nevertheless, their sound reminded me that it was Sunday, and that Christians were meeting throughout the world to worship the Creator of the Universe. As was my custom each day, I settled down quietly to read that great and special book the Bible, to ‘hear’ God’s word, to pray and to give thanks.

Boats at Soller

Sunday made no difference to the sailing programme. Business was as usual. Weeds and barnacles had no time to get a foothold on ‘Secant’! After a late breakfast we departed from Soller, bound for San Telmo, which was at the western end of Mallorca. There was very little wind to help us on our way. We could see the racing fleet ahead, and by using the engine we easily overhauled them. The cliff scenery was spectacular. Now and again a special feature would draw our attention, perhaps an isolated building perched high on a cliff top, or an unusually-shaped rock resembling an image of a creature or a person. It is amazing how one's imagination can be fed by visual stimuli and there were plenty of them that day.

San Telmo

San Telmo Beach

More San Telmo

Evening at San Telmo was so peaceful. Observing the scene from the anchorage, I was fascinated with the individuality and variety of the villas. They seemed to complement and blend into the rocks that rose from the sea. There was no conformity of design – each villa had its unique character. I cooked the evening meal of chip-slices made from lightly boiled potatoes, fried in shallow fat with onions and other vegetables, covered with whisked egg, left until golden brown, and seasoned with salt and pepper. Delicious! Whoever was chef-of-the-day was relieved of the washing-up; therefore after the meal I was able to relax with a glass of wine and watch the sun set beyond the horizon.

We stayed at San Telmo the next day, but left before nightfall for lbiza. Prior to our departure I enjoyed a walk into the foothills, from where I was able to appreciate the fabulous scenery of the mountains and sea. By using my binoculars I could see Gordon hanging out his washing on an improvised line before settling on the foredeck for a sunbathing session.

I have always liked the combination of walking and sailing. For me, the two go together. In remote places I have been able to find peace, and a real quietness of spirit, not just an absence of noise. Such was the quietness I found that morning in the foothills of San Telmo.

Before returning to the yacht, I bought two Frigo Magnum ice creams, one of dark chocolate and the other of white. As I expected and hoped, the skipper preferred the one coated with dark chocolate.

The evening was cool, and there was the sound of thunder from a mass of black cloud hovering over Mallorca. We got underway, and set a course of 240 degrees for the island of Ibiza.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Memorable Cruise, part 6


On the morning of Thursday, 11th June, we steered the yacht directly into a thirty knot wind, while heading out to sea through the narrow entrance of Cala de Fornells. The approaching waves with breaking crests looked grand. As soon as we were through the entrance we partially unfurled both the Genoa and main. ‘Secant’ took the seas in her stride, never giving us cause for concern. When outside in open water, and clear of the cliffs, we eased sheets. That had us romping along in fine style. To leeward and stretching ahead as far as we could see, there were fantastic craggy cliffs, and behind them was a backdrop of wooded hills. Dark clouds dramatized the effect by adding to the stormy scene. Soon Menorca was just a grey smudge on the horizon. We were bound for Mallorca, and before nightfall we arrived at Puerto Alcuidia, after having experienced a day of exhilarating sailing.

Alcuidia Beach

Yet again, what a pain the anchor proved to be! We could not make it hold, and after numerous attempts, we were forced to enter Alcuidia Marina where millionaires moor their yachts. The strong wind made coming alongside tricky, but we were fortunate by finding a vacant spot by the lifeboat. This meant we did not have to moor head-on to the quay with lines astern, as is usual in the Mediterranean.

Our receptionist was a wild-looking, swarthy young lad, with a bush of long, straggly black hair. He wore the standard Tee shirt and baggy shorts conforming to the pattern of marina attendants. He also carried a portable VHF set for contacting the Marina manager. He was extremely extrovert and very assertive, possibly disguising an inferiority complex. He insisted that the yacht was to be moved a few inches forward, making her far too close to the one ahead of her. He was not satisfied until his demands were met. He even wanted to make fast the mooring lines with his own choice of knots, which we let him do. Later we retied them to our own satisfaction. (I suppose in our own way, we were just as assertive, but wasn’t the yacht Gordon’s, and didn’t he have the right to choose which knots were best to secure her?)

By the morning of Friday, 12th June, the wind had died down somewhat, and the sun shone brightly. We needed to make a visit to the supermarket, and I wanted to get my hands on some cash. Therefore we went together to explore the resort, but on the way we stopped for a beer - which turned out to be a very large one - so large that I could not drink all of mine. Gordon downed his with ease.

After relaxing with our cooling drinks, we continued searching for our objectives. The supermarket was easy to find, but a bank with a cash dispenser was elusive. When I was about to insert my card into the dispenser I experienced a sudden loss of confidence. I was convinced it would be swallowed up, and gone forever! I asked Gordon to stand by, as I went through the process of selecting English, before proceeding. At that point my confidence returned, and I had no further difficulty. I remembered it was my wife's birthday, and that she was intending to have a party with our daughters. I therefore I phoned her by using my phone charge-card. All was well.

When we returned to the yacht, Gordon made use of the Marina’s facilities. He hosed ‘Secant’ with fresh water, and replaced her ineffective Bruce anchor with a standard Danforth. Afterwards we sailed to Cala Formentor, where we saw the British registered yacht ‘Scot-free'. She was flying the Saltire from her port shroud. A short while after our arrival she moved to the other side of the bay. Not long afterwards, a jetski that had been zooming around ‘Secant’ ceased its noisy gyrations, and we were left in peace to enjoy a lovely sunset. We had a quiet night, which enabled us to sleep soundly. Our lives had become nomadic. Seldom did we stay in any place more than a couple of days.

Cala Formentor

Formentor Beach

Gordon was not at all superstitious, and neither was I; therefore we never feared sailing on a Friday. Neither did the thirteenth day of the month have any significance; so we sailed on Saturday, 13th June, to explore the north coast of Mallorca. As we expected, the wind was almost from dead ahead and it became blustery, so that spray flew over the doghouse, encrusting it with salt. By motor-sailing we were able to maintain a speed of five knots, which was necessary for satisfactory progress. What made this part of the trip memorable was the superlative cliff scenery. Inland beyond the high cliffs there were spectacular mountains on a grand scale.

We entered two calas before Soller which we chose as the most secure anchorage for the night. It was the first real haven we found with any shelter, but even there, we heard that two yachts had been washed up on the beach only days before by strong winds.

Cala Calobra

Calobra again

View from the Beach at Calobra

'Secant' leaving Calobra

The first cala we came to was Calobra, but for some unaccountable reason I became quite scared when going in. At first, all we could see was what appeared to be a tiny building at water level. This was at the foot of cliffs that towered overhead. It seemed impossible there could be room for a yacht to anchor there, but our GPS confirmed our position and we continued. Closer-in we found huge perpendicular cliffs on either side, and ahead there was a tiny pebbly beach with a few small buildings. We took continuous soundings. The scenery was fabulous. There was a backdrop of fairy-tale mountains beyond a narrow valley. I became aware of the sound of lapping water that was caused by waves bouncing from the base of the cliffs on either side. Rather strangely I could also hear birdsong echoing around the rock basin. I observed that a handful of people who were sat on the beach were showing an interest in our movements. One of them had a pair of binoculars trained on us.

Cala Tuent

Close-up at Cala Tuent

When the anchor was down, ruffles of wind from all quarters constantly turned the yacht according to its whims. I felt distinctly uneasy, and made an effort to qualm my fears, but in the end I expressed my feelings to the skipper, who decided to break out the anchor and sail for the next cala, by the name of Tuent. There we dropped the hook rather too close to the beach, which gave us only a metre under the keel. If the wind were to increase, there would be little room for manoeuvre. Once again, discretion was the better part of valour, and we motored for the security of Soller.